Europe holds its breath after Berlusconi's pledge to quit


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Europe looked on anxiously at the political maelstrom engulfing Italy yesterday after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's pledge to quit as soon as vital austerity measures are passed.

A somewhat vague commitment on Tuesday night by the centre-left opposition to back the package of labour reforms and spending cuts, and the inability so far of the ruling centre-right government to stick to EU deadlines, left question marks over Italy's ability to act decisively against the debt crisis.

Predicting how or when the vital reforms would be implemented was made more difficult by the ongoing political scramble as all parliamentary groupings sought to be in poll position when, as seems probable, the president, Giorgio Napolitano, attempts to form a new government later this month. "This is exactly what's scaring the markets," Franco Pavoncello, a politics professor at Rome's John Cabot University, said. "We really don't know what's going to happen in the next few days or weeks."

One Berlusconi loyalist, the Defence Minister, Ignazio La Russa, said the government could deliver the promised stability law within 10 to 15 days. But he added it might take up to 30 days.

Meanwhile, speculation continued about the fate of Mr Berlusconi. Most experts considered it extremely unlikely he would seek to go back on his commitment. And Mr Napolitano said yesterday the stability legislation would be passed "in a matter of days" and then Mr Berlusconi would quit.

In an interview on Canale 5, the 75-year-old tycoon championed the Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, as the man to succeed him as head of his People of Freedom party after a "consultation among the 1.2 million party members".